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Political Editors / September 24, 2021

In Brief: Far More Defensive Gun Uses Than Murders

John Lott explains why you never hear of these stories amidst the slew of crimes tales.

Americans who value the Second Amendment know that it’s ultimately about Liberty. But much of the debate often ends up being about crime. Truth be told, the gun grabbers don’t fare any better on that front.

John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, has researched and written extensively about this over the years, and he’s out with some new numbers about defensive gun use.

While Americans know that guns take many innocent lives every year, many don’t know that firearms also save them.

On May 15, an attacker at an apartment complex in Fort Smith, Ark., fatally shot a woman and then fired 93 rounds at other people before a man killed him with a bolt-action rifle. Police said he “likely saved a number of lives in the process.”

On June 30, a 12-year-old Louisiana boy used a hunting rifle to stop an armed burglar who was threatening his mother’s life during a home invasion.

On July 4, a Chicago gunman shot into a crowd of people, killing one and wounding two others before a concealed handgun permit holder shot and wounded the attacker. Police praised him for stepping in.

These are just a few of the nearly 1,000 instances reported by the media so far this year in which gun owners have stopped mass shootings and other murderous acts, saving countless lives. And crime experts say such high-profile cases represent only a small fraction of the instances in which guns are used defensively. But the data are unclear, for a number of reasons, and this has political ramifications because it seems to undercut the claims of gun rights advocates that they need to possess firearms for personal protection — an issue now before the Supreme Court.

Americans who look only at the daily headlines would be surprised to learn that, according to academic estimates, defensive gun uses — including instances when guns are simply shown to deter a crime — are four to five times more common than gun crimes, and far more frequent than the roughly 20,000 murders or fewer each year, with or without a gun. But even when they prevent mass public shootings, defensive uses rarely get national news coverage. Those living in major news markets such as New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles are unlikely to hear of such stories.

Lott goes on to indict the media for choosing the salacious crime stories over the more prevalent good ones. Their job isn’t fairness, of course, it’s selling a product. Crime sells.

But the truth is:

The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey indicates that around 100,000 defensive gun uses occur each year — an estimate that, though it may seem like a lot, is actually much lower than 17 other surveys. They find between 760,000 defensive handgun uses and 3.6 million defensive uses of any type of gun per year, with an average of about 2 million.

And as our Mark Alexander notes, “The real defensive case for firearms is not the number of defensive uses, but the number of times criminals avoided a robbery, assault, or murder because they believe their intended victim might be armed.”

Lott says there’s also a media feedback loop. They report only certain cases and then rely on data from organizations that rely on media reports for statistics. That then leads to a picture that distorts reality. Cases in which no shots were fired likely make up the bulk of defensive gun uses, yet are hardly reported, leading to the idea that guns only wound or kill people. Worse, because there are often arrests even with defensive gun uses, news reports frequently report these as crimes, doubly distorting statistics.

In any case, Lott’s reporting cuts through the media smokescreen, and it’s well worth reading the whole thing here.

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